Updated: November 14, 2009 at 12:00 am
The nasty weather Saturday night at Falcon Stadium was reminiscent of what Air Force played in against TCU.
The game was reminiscent of the Falcons’ season-opening beat-down of Nicholls State.
Air Force dominated UNLV from start to finish, beating the Rebels 45-17 and allowing its 15 seniors to celebrate their last game at Falcon Stadium in style.
Air Force rolled up 557 yards of offense – 431 on the ground – and its defense limited UNLV to 282 yards, including just 135 through the air, more than 90 below the Rebels’ per-game average. Many in the sparse crowd fled at halftime. It was snowy and cold and – by that time – the game was just about over with the Falcons in front, 24-3.
“I think so far this season, this was our best complete game as a unit overall, everybody,” sophomore quarterback Tim Jefferson said. “Offense was clicking, and defense made the stops whenever they needed them.”
The victory was Air Force’s third in a row and guaranteed the Falcons (7-4, 5-2 Mountain West Conference) will finish with a winning record for the third time in coach Troy Calhoun’s three seasons.
It also guaranteed UNLV will finish with a losing record for the fifth time in as many seasons under coach Mike Sanford. Many figured the embattled Sanford would need to get his team bowl eligible to keep his job. That’s now impossible, as the Rebels are 4-7, including 2-5 in MWC play.
Sophomore Asher Clark set career highs with 160 yards and three touchdowns, while Jefferson completed 8-of-13 passes for 126 yards — the third straight game with more than 100 yards.
After getting stuffed on a fourth-and-1 near midfield on the game’s first possession, the Falcons drove 95 yards in 11 plays, the last a 24-yard touchdown run by Clark. Air Force went 80 yards in 15 plays on its next possession to go up 14-0.
UNLV got a break when a Rebels punt bounced off the back of Air Force’s Brian Lindsay, and UNLV recovered at the Air Force 20. The Falcons defense, however, made the Rebels settle for a field goal
“If they score, it’s 14-7, and it puts a ton of spark into them,” Calhoun said.
The defense came up with another big play late in the first half. Trailing 17-3, UNLV drove from its own 24-yard line to the Air Force 11. But senior strong safety Chris Thomas picked off a pass in the end zone. Air Force then drove 80 yards to take a 24-3 lead.
“If we had scored there, it’s a different game,” Sanford said.
But almost certainly not a different result.
UNLV entered the game ranked with the 11th-worst defense in the country, statistically, and the Falcons took advantage. Air Force averaged 6.6 yards per play, converted nine of 14 third downs and had to punt just once.
“It felt like everything that we called worked,” Jefferson said.